September 11th, 2001 in Zimbabwe
We were at afternoon tea on a terrace of the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe, Africa when our safari guide, Mark, quietly told us, “A jet plane just flew into one of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. It’s 8:46 am in New York.”
Our hotel room TV carried a BBC feed as we watched the second tower invaded by another jet plane seventeen minutes later.
The images were surreal.
My safari mates and I met up an hour later for dinner. Servers and buffet staff looked at us with pity and concern. They knew we’d be going back to a country at war. What they didn’t express to us was how our lives were changed forever. Zimbabwe was involved in their own civil war—black against white, neighbor against neighbor. They had a unique perspective on how life could change quickly.
Scheduled to fly back to the bush in two days, we were dining on some of the most unique foods I’d ever tasted…eland, impala, various wild foul, and more…yet the conversation continued to return to Who, Why, What Next?
Someone floated the idea we might be traveling to one of the safest places currently in the world, Botswana. We didn’t know how difficult it would be to fly out of Zimbabwe.
Two days later….
“Give me all your cash!” Mark discretely demanded at the airport so he could bribe officials. “Keep quiet and don’t mention any luggage.”
In a fourteen by fourteen foot waiting room we left five other Americans, not traveling with us, and flew to Botswana. They would live there until the Johannesburg airport opened again. It would be days before the backlog of passengers returning to the USA was cleared. A soda machine and junk food dispenser were their only sustenance.
Mark whispered, “The packages are tucked away in the airplane luggage compartment,” as we walked the tarmac to the twelve seater plane. Our authentic tribal spears were safe from inspection.
Once in flight to Vumbura, Botswana we discussed the question: Do we dwell upon current events, or immerse ourselves in the wonders of the wetlands?
We chose a compromise. Mark would update us daily from his wireless world radio. We would focus on our trip.
The signs of the Vumbura airport landing strip welcomed us to the dirt and gravel runway.
We shut out the world as we photographed the wetlands of Africa. We were thrilled to glimpse the shy sable antelope, a bathing elephant, lionesses grooming one another as they woke from their daily sleep before the evening hunt began, and many other wonders.
We created wonderful memories. But our return two weeks later to the USA is another story. We were forever different from our friends and family who lived through the aftermath of 911 in the USA as we returned to our country now at war.